“It was probably the best win we’ve had all year. The other 17 have kind of been — I don’t want to say easy — but we didn’t have to fight like this for them. It’s gratifying to be able to say we’re conference champs again,” coach Scott Nagy said.
“I didn’t sleep good (Friday) night,” he added. “I never do after a loss. And it was a long day waiting. But mostly, I’m happy for the players and my staff. My staff works their tails off. They’re really excited in (the locker room).
Loudon Love had his third straight double-double and 12th of the season, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Grant Basile had 21 points and nine rebounds, Tanner Holden 18 points and six boards and Tim Finke 10 points and eight rebounds.
The Raiders, who led by as many as 11 in the first half, muscled their way to a 41-33 advantage on the glass.
In five years under Nagy, they’ve gone fifth, second, tied for first, first and tied for first.
The Raiders set a program record for league wins (albeit during an unprecedented 20-game schedule) and tied for the second-most victories in conference history, joining Valparaiso in 2015-16, Green Bay in 1995-96 and Butler in 2007-08.
Butler still holds the record for most wins with an 18-0 record in 2009-10.
NKU guard Marques Warrick — who has been named league freshman of the week six times — had 21 points and went 3 of 6 on 3′s a day after scoring 23 points.
The Norse led, 63-59, with 6:28 to go after a dunk from Adrian Nelson.
But the Raiders scored nine straight points in about a two-minute span for a 68-63 lead — seven of them coming from Holden.
He hit a pair of free throws, converted a three-point play and then added a layup to fuel the comeback.
The Norse pulled within two again. But the Raiders, despite not making another basket, made 9 of 11 on foul shots the rest of the way. That was enough.
“It was one we really had to fight for,” Nagy said. “We struggled in the first half to get their ball screens under control. We did a really nice job of getting them under control and got stops when we needed to get stops.
“We were able to count on our defense, which we hadn’t been able to do for three games.”
The Norse’s 2-3 zone defense was tough to navigate Friday. Love and Basile had 16 and 15 points, respectively, but they shot just 3 of 10 in the first half.
The Raiders found more openings in the second meeting.
“There wasn’t a lot of room to operate in there, but our guys did a good job of drawing fouls, getting to the free-throw line, making free throws,” said Nagy, whose team didn’t get swept over 10 straight weekends of back-to-back games.
“That was the difference for us tonight, and it’s been a big stat for us all year. It usually is.”